When you’re trying to cover a lot of ground in just a few days, European night trains are your friend. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, night trains and a lot of good luck make for a reasonably friendly acquaintance you might want to have a beer with or vote into office. The matron on the CityNightLine into Landeck, Austria, informs me as I embark that the six-berth compartment is full, with one woman joining the party at intervals of about 70 minutes. Dazed yet thrilled upon arrival in Landeck, just an hour’s ride from Ishgl and its gondola to 100 miles of skiing, I tank up at the Der Bäcker Ruertz bakery with espresso, boiled eggs (which are dyed as if it were Easter) and a croissant. It’s not as flaky as the ones in France, but that’s not the point of eating now, anyway. It’s fuel.
The Ischgl bus is full of women wearing floral headscarves tucked into their collars and speaking a language I can only identify as Eastern European. I can’t ask about the log barns, built on fieldstone foundations; or the ancient retaining walls that follow the river; or the avalanche brakes that scale some mountain faces, row after row after row like abandoned military fortifications. One woman speaks enough English to point out the stop closest to my hotel, and they all smile and nod and wave as I step off.
A helpful reception clerk at the Hotel Trofana directs me to the spa downstairs where I can change into ski clothes, then down the street to the rental shop and on to a tunnel leading to the Fimbabahn gondola, which runs 3,847 meters to the Idalp base area and its skein of lifts. She needn’t have told me the last part: People with skis on their shoulders, lumbering along in that Frankenstein walk peculiar to ski boots, stream toward the tunnel mouth and cram together on a magic-carpet conveyor belt, past poster-size photos of pop stars who’ve kicked off the Ischgl ski season one by one for the past 10 years: Elton John, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue, Alanis Morissette. American music streams from speakers overhead. The conveyor spits us out into a crowd watching the clock over the lift operator’s head. Even after all that, I’m early. The lifts aren’t even open yet.